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Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#541: Ornate Ghost Pipefish

I wrote recently about the group of divers who harassed the rare weedy scorpionfish I had been filming. In that column I mentioned I turned away in disgust and immediately found another great fish to film... the ornate ghost pipefish, Solenostomus paradoxus. This species is also known as the harlequin pipefish. As I filmed it, a diver from "that group" stuck his face and his camera in my viewfinder and shot off his strobe. I backed off and threatened to "punch his lights out" (certainly out of character for a lover who is not a fighter).

I've said before that I try to film the common species to represent what is really going on in any marine ecosystem I visit. However, when an unusual or rare species gets in front of my camera, I don't hesitate to film it. The ornate ghost pipefish was certainly on my wish list for my trip to the Philippines since it is unusual and is featured on the cover of my Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific field guide put together by some of the top underwater photographers.

One web site I used in researching this column stated that this species is one of the hardest to spot in the ocean. I guess I may not have to visit my optometrist after all since I found several of them on my dives. They are usually less than four inches in length and often blend in well with their surroundings. This species comes in a wide range of flavors... er, I mean colors... and its body is adorned with numerous projections that make it look somewhat thorny.

The ornate ghost pipefish is found in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans, ranging from eastern Africa to Micronesia and Fiji. Their depth range is generally no more than 115 ft placing them well within recreational diving limits. They may be found in a variety of habitats which often determine what color they will choose to be... kind of like ocean-dwelling chameleons. The edges of reefs with strong currents are a favored home. Their somewhat limited mobility keeps them confined to relatively small home ranges.

It is believed they live only for a year, spending much of their youth in the plankton as larvae before settling down and maturing. Sounds like a lot of kids I knew... and know, drifting through their early years before maturing and settling down. Heck, I'm still doing that myself. Some believe that they settle as males and some change into females if the right environmental cues are present. This triggers a period of rapid growth and the development of a brood pouch between the ventral fins which can hold 200 eggs.

Pipefish are relatives of the sea horse. There are over 200 species of pipefish throughout the world, but this is certainly one of the most unique. They tend to float upside down with their mouths pointing toward the bottom. They use the mouth like a vacuum to capture small crustaceans such as mysids and small shrimp... and they don't even use cocktail sauce!

There were other species that I filmed in the Philippines, including the robust ghost pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus). It also has the ability to change color to match its surroundings and may be observed in red, green, purple, yellow or brown sometimes with a mottled pattern. This species is known from East Africa and the Red Sea to Australia and Fiji north as far as southern Japan. Although still a bit cryptic, this species can not match the unique appearance of its cousin!

© 2013 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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The beauty and diversity of the Philippines Coral Triangle.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
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